Hurricane Laura tore through a region that is home to dozens of major oil refineries, petrochemical plants and plastics facilities. Now, residents could be breathing dangerously polluted air from those sites, public health experts and local advocates say.
The pollution began before the storm even made landfall. In the two days before the storm arrived, facilities in Texas released more than 4 million pounds of extra air pollution, according to reports the companies made to state environmental regulators that were analyzed by the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund for NPR.
The reported pollution includes chemicals such as benzene, a known human carcinogen, as well as substances such as nitrogen oxides that exacerbate respiratory illnesses.
“We go through this every hurricane,” says Hilton Kelley, the director of the environmental group Community In-Power and Development Association in Port Arthur, Texas, near where Hurricane Laura made landfall. “Every time there’s a major storm, the refineries go into shutdown mode.”